Leading in Tough Times: Gil Borok, Colliers

Throughout the month of August, Connect CRE is running a series titled “Leading in Tough Times.” We’ve asked leaders around the U.S. and across the commercial real estate spectrum to share their wisdom and discuss lessons learned. In this installment, you’ll hear from Gil Borok, President and CEO, U.S. & LATAM with Colliers.

Q: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about leading in a challenging environment?

A: The most important lesson I have learned over the years is to be patient and empathetic. In challenging times, we need to keep things in perspective, yet act quickly and decisively. We have to remember that we are not saving lives in what we do in commercial real estate, but, of course, we are oftentimes saving livelihoods. Some leaders tend to react emotionally to complex and evolving circumstances during uncertain times, often by aggressively cutting costs. It is obviously better to react more rationally. Unfortunately, cost containment in an uncertain environment becomes necessary but I distinguish between that and investment for the future and try to maintain the latter as much as possible. It is also important to remain optimistic because economic cycles that impact our industry come and go. Uncertain times ultimately give way to better ones, and historically, slower economic cycles are shorter than growth ones.

Q: What’s the most common mistake leaders make in an inhospitable market?

A: I think all too often leaders get nervous and respond by cutting costs too aggressively, often catering to Wall Street (or other ownership stakeholders), rather than thinking holistically about the long-term health of their business. In my experience, it is essential to keep a cool head and attempt to solve for each challenge that arises on a case-by-case basis. It seems to me that just when one thinks things cannot get any worse, they start to improve. As a leader, it is important to keep this in mind so as to remain optimistic about the future. If, as a leader, you are not rational and optimistic, no one else will be either, or that is not a recipe for long-term success.

Q: What leadership advice would you like to give your younger self?

A: I would advise myself to more fully appreciate that most professionals are capable such that they add value to the enterprise in their own way. I recall leaving a pedigreed Big 6 public accounting firm for private industry 25 years ago and thinking that I was the smartest person in the room, only to get knocked down a time or two by a teammate who was more knowledgeable and experienced, albeit perhaps less pedigreed. This really taught me to appreciate every member on a team. Now, as a seasoned leader, I believe that most people are well intentioned and try hard. If we have hired well, our people should be trusted to advance the mission at hand.

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